Our bodies require care from the day we were born. We have to take care of ourselves. Often this doesn’t become apparent until we have a health scare or someone we know falls ill. Taking care of ourselves becomes more and more important as we grow and mature. On some days our upkeep can feel overwhelming. Floss your teeth, brush your teeth, use mouthwash, wear your night guard. Eat vegetables. Eat fruits. Exercise. Cut your nails. Cut your hair. Take your vitamins. Take your meds. Don’t forget to stretch!
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the tasks that we need to complete on a daily basis. How do we keep up and make sure that we are healthy as we mature? In this article I will tell you the secrets. There is a way to manage all of this maintenance and to take care of ourselves, to feel great and to ensure our good health as we grow and mature.
In this article, we will touch on some key areas essential for good health – sleeping, eating, exercising and caring for the mind. Any one of these topics is enough to devote an entire life’s study too so this article will stick to the most important points within each topic. By the end of this article you will have several actionable things that you can do to immediately and drastically improve your health.
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables and Eat Less Meat
I’m not telling you to become a vegan. I’m not even telling you to become a vegetarian. But science and our knowledge of what foods are good for us has evolved. So let’s start with this enormously important topic: food. We’ve all heard it before - what we put into our bodies will have quite possibly one of the biggest impacts on our health. Do you live to eat or eat to live? A craze of recent Netflix documentaries promotes giving up meat and/or becoming a vegan. Some documentaries promote giving up gluten. There are certainly a lot of theories out there. Some of these diets are ‘fads’ or trends. Giving up gluten for example is crucial for someone with celiac disease as gluten causes inflammation that damages the small intestine’s lining. But common people, without celiac disease, have adopted this diet due to misinformation. In fact, the diet can do quite a bit of harm to the average person and is not a recommended diet for someone who does not have celiac disease. So let’s avoid any of these trendy diets for now and stick to the basics.
Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables
I decided to try out a diet rich in vegetables and fruits for myself. I gave up eating meat for five months. You are probably sitting here reading this thinking that in no way can you give up meat. To be honest, I grew up eating meat – chicken, sometimes steak, lots of fish. When I hit my 20’s and 30’s, I started to eat pork (darn pork buns) and all sorts of other meats. Sometimes rabbit or duck was on the menu. Looking back, I have probably eaten meat every single day of my life for several decades. It was probably a rarity to entirely skip meat for one full day. It was part of the culture around me growing up. And it still is. But is it good for you? I’ve heard so many conflicting opinions that I thought the only way to truly find out would be to find out for myself.
When you give up meat for the first time in your life, your body goes through an enormous change for the first week. In some ways, it feels as though your body goes into shock. Your bowel movements change. You may go to the bathroom a lot more. Part of the idea of giving up meat is to eat way more fruits and vegetables. When you do this, the fruits cause you to go to the bathroom a lot more. I’ve never heard anyone talk about this before, but the smell from your bowel movements goes away. Yes, men, I’m talking to you.
Perhaps one of the most interesting benefits is the change to your energy levels. Do you know that feeling when you eat a big lunch and then all you want to do is take a nice warm nap? That subsides as your diet improves.
One problem is that eating meat makes you very full. So if you don’t immediately account for the loss of calories and ‘fullness’, you will become hungry. I had to get used to eating between meals. Nuts can be very nutritious and were a great way to fill up between meals.
This was all an easy way to lose meat. You will almost instantly lose weight, whether you intended to or not. Now do I have your attention? It’s like the meat falls off of your ones. Literally. Figuratively. Both!
Here is where this is going. When you give up meat and make a deliberate effort to replace it with fruits and vegetables, you become healthier. You can feel the difference. You start feeding your body vitamins and minerals and proteins. You start feeding your body health. And you in turn become healthier. Many vegetables can work to fight against disease and sickness and in turn, can keep you healthy and living longer. It’s a no brainer!
One more note on this: your doctor may not be a nutritionist. I say this nicely. Most doctors don’t seem to know too much about nutrition in general. I was told to watch out for my protein levels and B12. Where can I get protein I asked my doctor? ‘Meat,’ he replied. Hmm. I took this to Google. He was wrong! Most vegetables have protein. To name a few, Brussel sprouts, spinach and broccoli are all high in protein. Fruits such as avocado and melon are high in protein too. The point is that lots of vegetables and fruits are high in protein and its simply not true that we can only receive protein from meat. Taking this one step further, it turns out that a lot of advertising has caused us to believe that we need tons of protein (way more than we do) to build muscle. I have one response for that. Just Google: “Vegan Bodybuilders”. Do you still think the only way to get protein and build muscle is with meat?
You Need to Sleep to be Healthy
Some of us seem to struggle with sleeping. Sometimes we sleep great. Other times we are up at night, unable to shake off our thoughts. Sleeping difficulties can come and go, making it difficult to pinpoint the real problem.
Sleep is so important for our well-being. Functioning becomes difficult without proper sleep. We become more easily irritable and our bodies work harder to stay awake so our immune systems become weaker. It’s easier to get sick when you don’t sleep. It’s also easy to start performing poorly, whether that's at work or in your personal life.
In another article, we discuss an incredibly effective method for getting better sleep – the 8-2-2-1 method: https://lonjev.com/blogs/news/having-trouble-sleeping-after-55-start-here
This method basically says that you should not drink caffeine (especially coffee and soda) 9 hours before bed. You should avoid eating 2 hours before bed. You should avoid drinking alcohol 2 hours before bed and you should avoid using ‘blue screens’ 2 hours before bed (phones, iPads, etc). The idea behind this strategy is to put these sleep inhibitors out of sight and out of mind. Cutting off caffeine 8 hours in advance of bedtime guarantees that little to no caffeine ie still in the bloodstream. As we know, caffeine can be incredibly effective at keeping us awake. Getting rid of food and alcohol 2 hours before bed allows the body to properly digest everything before bedtime. Alcohol may put you out, but it disrupts the quality of the sleep. Cutting off the beer or wine 2 hours before bed allows the body to digest and process everything. Putting the phone away before bed allows the eyes to rest, reducing strain that is common from staring at screens in the dark. Overall, this 8-2-2-1 method can be incredibly effective.
Work Up a Sweat and Exercise to Improve Your Health
Everyone probably tells you by now that you need to exercise. But why? What kind of exercise is sufficient? Getting the blood pumping and working up a sweat is the key. Increasing the heart rate and breaking a sweat is a great indicator that your blood is pumping through the body. But what you are effectively doing here is increasing the heart’s activity, forcing it to work harder. You are giving the heart its own ‘exercise’! And it needs it. According to just about every scientific study in the world, the heart requires exercise to stay in good shape. And a healthy heart equals a healthy mind. Its no wonder that cholesterol can be lowered from cardiovascular activity. Also, scientists and doctors believe that an increased exercise regimen works to fight off Alzheimer's and dementia-related diseases.
Walking, jogging, biking, rowing and using an optical are all great forms of cardiovascular exercise. A minimum of 20 minutes is required to get the full effect. We won’t go in depth about specific workouts here, but the idea is (with the consent of your doctor of course) to challenge yourself. Pushing yourself a bit will push yourself to break a sweat. And then build on your progress each time. If you walk on the machine at an incline of 4.0 and a speed of 2.7 for 10 minutes, next time do an incline of 4.5 at a speed of 2.8 for 12 minutes. And so forth.
Getting a trainer can be great a idea. Can’t afford one? Get one lesson and learn some helpful exercises before you go off on your own. Reading and learning more about exercise and fitness will increase your comfort level when you are getting exercise. And remember, a healthy heart is a healthy mind. Exercising is a vital component to the health of our bodies, heart and minds.
I Don’t Have Time or Patience to Take Care of My Mind
Neither do I. When we think of meditation, we often think of monks. But to be serious, meditation has become very popular, particularly in urban areas around the country. Meditators say that taking some time to focus on the mind can have incredible health benefits. What do they mean when they say this? I decided to try it out. However, there is one caveat. I wanted to meditate only for 10 or 15 minutes. I was busy. I was impatient. And I felt that I didn’t have an hour a day. I know what you’ll say - we make time for the things that are important to us. But, at the time, and even right now frankly, I felt like 1 hour of meditation a day just wasn’t fully possible.
So I started to google: quick meditation. It turns out that someone else addressed this: ‘Headspace’, an app (on your phone and online) was specifically created with our modern, busy world in mind. The idea was that you don’t need 1 hour to meditate. You just need 10 minutes a day. So I downloaded the app to my iPhone and started the trial subscription. The app offers a 10 part series. Each part is 10 minutes. All you need is a quiet place. This is the most important part. Mute your phone, close your windows. Put yourself in a quiet place. It actually doesn’t have to be perfectly quiet.
The 10 minute meditation session is guided. You basically listen to this guy’s awesome, soothing British voice. It’s like he was made for this. You start by taking a few deep breathes, then you close your eyes, then you start to listen to the sounds around you. Then you start to go through your body from head to toe, see what feels good and what doesn’t, then breathe, 1 to 10 and that’s about it. The idea behind listening to the sounds around you is controlling your mind. He tells you it’s totally acceptable to listen to these sounds. And you definitely trust this guy because, well, you’ll see what I mean. Then you think about your body which you never pay attention to and then you breathe and you wake up an entirely new person.
I am the last person in the entire world that would meditate, and here I am saying, meditation is a life changer.
It’s Your Body and Your Mind - Make a Change Today
It usually takes a scare for us to make a change, right? Someone we know gets sick or passes away or we get sick or have a health scare. Or maybe it’s an accident. Hopefully it only takes a small incident to remind ourselves how important it is to take care of ourselves.
Why wait for a scare? Why not make a change right now? What if making a change today could decrease your risk of cancer, dementia-related diseases, lower your cholesterol and potentially help you live happier and longer?
Sleep, food, exercise and your mind. These four things are like the holy grail of our health. Start to change even one of them and you can change your entire life. And they all work together. Start to exercise and you will see that you will eat better and sleep better. Your mind will feel less stress and less anxiety. Start to eat better and you may find that it improves your sleeping. Start to sleep better and your mind will be more calm during the day. Not necessarily slow, but calm and more thoughtful.
And you know the famous saying, you are what you eat? Well, it’s true! You don’t feel an immediate impact from changing your diet, but you will start to see changes throughout your life. And if you really supplement your diet with tons of fruits and vegetables, you will fight off sickness and potential disease.
So what are you waiting for? The time is now!